Rachel Alban

PhD student

Thesis: ‘This Splitting of a Hair’ – The Magic of Miniaturisation in 15th and 16th Century Manuscript Painting

Supervisor: Sussan Babaie   Advisor: Susie Nash

Funded by AHRC/CHASE

Persian paintings are often described in the most hyperbolic terms, both in the primary sources and by scholars. A Safavid critic and historian, Qazi Ahmad praises the painter’s qalam (brush), asserting that ‘its business is magic wonders’. However, the visual mechanisms which underpin these dazzlingly detailed surfaces have never been clearly expounded and their meaning has too often been reduced to mere conspicuous consumption. By applying the lens of size and scale to Persian manuscript paintings, my research aims to provide more precise and revealing analyses of these works, as well as addressing the materiality of their codical context. When analysed in this way, it becomes possible to identify a tendency towards small-scale compositions and minute surface detail, which emerges in Jalayirid Baghdad and continues to be explored and developed by artists during the Timurid and Safavid periods. Although my research will address the complex chronological developments and variations in this miniaturised mode, this project focuses on the late fifteenth early sixteenth century, as the period in which the interest in miniaturisation seemed most pronounced.

In the field of Islamic art, the importance of scale has been implicit in art-historical accounts of the development of Persian painting. However, this research aims to go beyond the analysis of scale in terms of provenance and as a descriptive tool. By exploring certain key manuscripts in their material, historical and intellectual contexts I will aim to reveal the cultural resonances of this miniaturised style. Most importantly, I will address how miniaturisation affected the text-image relationship through a detailed case study of Nizami’s Khamseh, a poetic masterpiece closely associated with the lyrical (or miniaturised) style of Persian painting.


CHASE-funded PhD Candidate, The Courtauld Institute of Art (2019-present)

MA by Research, History of Art, University of York (2018-2019). Thesis: The Significance of Size and Scale in the Appeal of the Tudor Portrait Miniature

BA Hons English Language and Literature, University of Oxford (2009-2012)

Research Interests

  • Size and scale: particularly pictorial scale and miniaturisation
  • Text-image relationships: illustration and questions of ‘extra-textuality’
  • Manuscript studies and intra-folio relationships between calligraphy, illumination and paintings
  • Questions of framing and reframing: borders, illuminations, prefaces, albums and Safavid manuscript refurbishment
  • Materiality and cross-media aesthetics
  • Cultural and intellectual contexts of Persian painting

Conference Papers

  • ‘Framing in Detail: Small-scale Illumination Design as Cognitive Framing in late Timurid and early Safavid Literary Manuscripts’ (Courtauld Annual Medieval Postgraduate Colloquium, 2022)
  • Miniaturisation and the Production of Wonder in 15th and 16th century Persian Painting’ (Courtauld Second Year Symposium, 2021)
  • ‘The Superficial Significance of Execution in Timurid Manuscript Painting’ (Yale Single Slide Sohbat, 2021)
  • ‘Miniaturisation in Persian Painting: Renewing our Appreciation of Size, Scale and Materiality in a Digital Age’ (CHASE Encounters 2020)
  • ‘Discovering the Monumental in the Miniature: The Importance of Scale in Tudor Portrait Miniatures’ (York University, 2019)

Teaching and Other Activities


  • Graduate Diploma Teaching Assistant: Foundations course (Spring 2022)
  • Teaching Assistant for The Courtauld Summer University (2020)


  • Co-organiser of Courtauld’s Annual Medieval Postgraduate Colloquium: ‘God is in the Details – The Art of Detail in the Middle Ages’ (2022)
  • Co-organiser of Student Work in Progress Seminars (Academic year 2020-21)